Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Creativity: What's the Brain Got to Do With It?

On creativity
On creativity (Photo credit: Bohman)
by Mark R Stephens

Among the many applications of neuroscience in the business world, we are increasingly seeing it unlocking the secrets of creativity and innovation.

It's not surprising that this is the case; creativity is the lifeblood of organisations - ideas are the currency of performance, progression and development and they take organisations into the future.

So understanding creativity has many benefits.

What is actually going on in the brain during the creative process has been a persistent question for behavioural psychologists; their findings are eagerly latched onto by designers of the next leadership or creativity program that comes along.

With the boost given to neuroscience from recent developments in imaging and computational power, it's time to dispel a big myth about creativity and to paint a new picture.

Left Brain, Right Brain or All Brain?

The right brain is the creative side and the left is the logical side, right? Most of us knew that this was far too simplistic to be true, but we still rolled it out when the occasion warranted it.

Several cognitive neuroscientists have disproven the theory that the seat of creativity resides in one side of the brain or the other. It is, just as we suspected, far too simplistic.

The creative process goes through a series of stages from the initial inspiration to actually creating something.

Would Einstein be considered a great creative mind if he had the initial creative impulse but never followed anything through? We wouldn't even know about many of his ideas if that was the case.

Of course, this involves a number of cognitive processes, as well as qualities like drive, commitment and motivation.

Mental Teamwork

Not surprisingly, different areas of the brain are employed and work to bring an idea to light and to fruition; it's almost like mental teamwork - different parts of the brain working together. It's not left or right side, but a combined effort.

Of course the brain is a huge and complex network that we are just beginning to understand, but there is evidence that thought processes like decision making and idea generation originate from interactions between multiple and distributed areas of the brain operating in a large, intricate network.

Which areas of the brain will be used during a creative activity depends on the activity itself - brainstorming in a session with colleagues, writing a song, or designing a new children's toy are all "creative" processes but they are vastly different activities. 

The Creative Brain Networks

The main networks that will be involved in any creative process are thought to be the following: 

The Attentional Control Network

This network is activated when concentrated focus is required, like when solving a complex problem or designing something that needs your complete attention. When you are completely immersed in a task, it is likely that you are employing this network. 

The Imagination Network

This network becomes active when we use our past personal experiences to create simulations - such as when we think about the future or try to come up with alternative scenarios to situations.

The Attentional Flexibility Network

This network is responsible for monitoring external events and internal thoughts; it "directs traffic" to the other two networks based upon what information is required to fulfil the task at hand.

Each of these networks may work together, be employed at different stages of the creative process or work individually.

Either way, the creativity process is a lot more complex than it is traditionally given credit for; many businesses will have found this out to their cost, as creativity cannot usually be given much of a boost by the latest training workshop; it often requires a change of organisational culture and leadership characteristics to give creativity the attention it requires.

The team at NeuroPower is at the forefront of introducing new approaches to organisational development through the findings of neuroscience. We apply them to all types of businesses, developing high performing teams and enhancing leadership.

Find out more at our website:

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